The Aesthetic Avant-Garde in the Cinema of the Silent Period

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1. What were the forces that helped shape the development of the star system in Hollywood?

The Hollywood star system development was not a solo effort creation, nor unsolicited desires by movie stars, but rather through the circulation of knowledge and specific productions. This production entailed fan magazines, films, and studios of publicity departments that were responsible for promulgating this knowledge. Moreover, this knowledge was strictly regulated to ensure that an effective type of expertise was produced by the actor (Decordova R 1991). The star system was initiated by three significant transformations which included the discourse on acting, picture personality, and the star.

In the discourse of the acting stage, people were represented on the screen though there were lame thoughts of this people likely to be considered to be actors. This form representation was non-observed entirely in cinemas, and therefore, it led to disassociation with the theoretical representation model. However, by 1907, another discourse that put into consideration the roles of human labor in film production emerged. Various 'sites of productivity' like the manufacturer, the director, and the photoplay-writer were involved in the production with the actor well-thought-out to be the central subject.

What were some of the ways stars were represented and discussed as unique components of cinema?

According to Robert C, the American Motion Picture Production underwent a revolution whereby the cinema's narrative form of drama and comedy obscured documentary ways regarding production volume. This accounted for the growth of dramatic productions by 66 percent in 1908, as compared to a mere 17 percent on the previous year. It is evident that this shift in a production supported the notion that people acted in films while leaving vestiges of photographic tradition with the association of films. The discourse of acting played a significant role guarantying audience expansion and acted as a strategy of asserting the cinema respectability. Moreover, it enhanced cinema institutionalization that led to the rise of modernized systems of production.

On the other hand, the picture personality was centered on the product individualism, whereby a character appeared by their names, or by the names that had been assigned to them by the public. It is at this transformation stage that the star system commences and appears as an economic reality. It pertained the name circulation to a 'player' based on the site of knowledge constituting a dual movement of revelation and concealment. These players were well-known actors who never wanted to risk their reputations by being discoverable in films. The player's restricted knowledge about their intertextuality was the key concern, and for that reason, the player's personality was the site of interest, and so it was to be in the case for the film where he or she is depicted.

How did the star system impact the evolution of film industrial practices during the 1910s-1920s?

Stars were represented by their professional experience based on the picture personality knowledge pertained to them of the intertextuality space among their films that they have previously featured and reviewed. It is at this point that both private and professional of a player develops into autonomous spheres that can be articulated to a paradigm. The star's film image of professionalism was not to be contradicted with his or her private life, but rather to support each other. For that reason, the cinema power was thus increased by the ideological and textual functioning of the star's discourse. Consequently, the star is characterized by the professional and private life paradigm which is articulated to him/her. Their discourse asserts that the cinema is the source of the healthy phenomenon of realizing the new site of knowledge and truth.

Based on the film The Sheik (George Melford, 1921), how does the image of the star connect to the melodramatic mode of cinematic expression?

The Sheik (Melford G, 1921) is a film cast by Rudolph Valentino entails a young, London socialite taking an extended vacation all the way to Sahara. On reaching there, she is attacked by outlaws, but Sheik Ahmed comes by to rescue her and later, they fall in love. The choice of North Africa acted as Beau Geste setting that was an adapted story of the French foreign legion and the English Geste brothers. This film tries to highlight the virtues of brotherhood and manliness of both the French and English in the context of the persistent attacks by the Arabs.

2. What constituted the aesthetic avant-garde in the cinema of the silent period?

The Avant-Garde was a film that emerged in the 1920s with a self-proclaimed goal of cultural sphere reconfiguration, and change of the economic, social and political foundations. It was meant to break down and overcome the barriers between politics and culture, society and art, and between practice and theory. The 1920s was a complicated period that the historians were still unraveling fashions, and art movements such as Constructivism, Surrealism, de Stijl, Expressionism, and Dada (Pray M 2003). These movements co-existed at the same time, and it forced some artists like Hans Ritcher camp from one place to the other to carry out further research.

The origins of the avant-garde can be traced from the early nineteen-century French paintings that were argued over, tossed, and both denounced and embraced in the 1920s to 1930s period. Besides, it was also characterized by various forms of art that were cross-fertilized. This art form included literature, sculpture, fashion, music, poetry, painting, and ballets. On the other hand, these sources of high art are harmonized with Avant-garde's love of popular 'low-arts' of Hollywood silent humor, circus, puppetry, vaudeville and the fascinating. In a broader form, the avant-garde assumed that these roles to be displacing it as well as to be opposing the high art. All these were to account for the Italian futuristic movement of the pre-World-War one that was to add filmography in its multimedia practices, a celebration of advanced metropolitan culture and life, and anti-bourgeois.

What were its formal attributes and techniques?

The desire of Avant-Garde was inspired by his desire to make a film in the form of art and sightsee a pure cinema idea. Therefore, the impressionist's strategy of creating a specific medium for the film and deploy an art of autonomous essence implied that he was to distance his film from the popular streamed cinemas but gain the desire from the audience itself. He also used a low poetic approach to the cinema that dealt with visions, meditation, and dream-like states, as in the Russian emigre Dimitri Kirsanoff's Menilmontant (1924), Germaine Dulac's Coquille et le clergyman (1927), or the Jean Epstein's La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928). Epstein's notion of 'photogenic' was an influential theoretical idea which tried to explore the camera as an instrument of revelation of reality. Based on Epstein's idea, Avant-Garde identified the film techniques like slow motion, close-ups, dissolves, image distortions, and soft focus to be impressive artists.

Abstraction was another primary technique used, and it involved burgeoning of abstract paintings by dominant artists like Arp, Malevic, Kupka, Mondrian, and Kandinsky. There were two views of that were associated with abstraction. The first one is the purist Platonist notion, which the essence of reality was considered as abstract forms of geometry such as cylinders, spheres, cubes et cetera. In this film type, the representation revealed the existence of abstract form in reality. The second approach involved raising relationships that are formal such as, depth, size, shape, color, or movements through expressive manipulation.

Surrealism technique can be defined as a pure psychic automatism that proposes to express writing verbally or in any form. This film technique aimed at creating a revolution using plots and linear narratives and thereby, freeing cinema from the outdated forms of literature such as storytelling while making the cinema itself to be an art that is visual and independent. Surrealist films replicate processes through irrational, illogical disruptions and resist interpretations. Moreover, they tend to insult traditional organizations in a society like marriage, family, and religion and as a result, they have changed the traditional forms of entertainment into revolutionized political and social potentials. They can also display even the extreme absurd images as visual facts that are concrete.

What were some of the broader aspects of society and culture that avant-garde artists sought to reflect upon and challenge?

Some of the broader aspects that Avant-garde tries sought out and reflect upon is modernity. Modernity is an experience mode of urbanization that tries to diminish traditional forms of thought and life, advancement in the technology eminent visual grasp of the world as a universal system and civil society rationalization. Among those aspects of concern that needed to be sought out were capitalist and values that resulted in World-War one, art institutions, revolutionized society's unidentified rationalism, and intellectual conventions or stale artistic.

To initiate the modern art movements, some modern artistic strategies like art as a provocation of jolting the society into self-awareness and viewing absurdity of artwork as a mirror around the world were initiated. These strategies were meant to revolutionalize minds into ones that can transform everyday experience, the creation of potential of the subconscious, and transforming contradictory states into a more potent form of realism.

How does the avant-garde fit in within the larger context of the 1920s film cultures and the problems and promises of modernity?

The avant-garde fits into larger contexts of film cultures by employing the visual idea art to its roots in nature, in the imponderable, and in reality (Pray M 2003). Through it, we can agree that like cinema, various forms of literature, drama, and music are arts of movement. Besides, if a novel form of expression like unknown substance is latent, then the mechanical instrument and discovery will be out of internal perception and will be exploited commercially. Therefore, avant-garde holds the framework of the past and conceptions that are traditional through which, one can search and explore its offers to pave the way for sensitive being expansion in an unexplored way. Moreover, it offered an instructive and educational power through which, film cultures can be perceived the realm reality as well as discern modernity. Consequently, the power of the cinema was to be imminent since it educated useful things which, without it, we could be living in doubts.

3. How does silent cinema reflect and shape the ideologies of colonialism and the Euro-centric understanding of race, ethnicity and cultural difference?

A silent cinema is a cinema that lacks a synchronized audio sound and instead, it shows its plot using title cards. These cards have dialogue lines and plot written indications. Most of the silent cinemas of the 1920s were faced by a lot of misconceptions of being primitive, and thus, they are disregarded and barely watched in the current standards. However, despite their misconceptions, the silent films emphasized the modernizing colonialism aspects by portraying the customs, places, and local characters that were often presented as apologetic. Additionally, they acted as the primary sources of understanding the colonizing societies' mentalities.

What kinds of genres and types of cinema were particularly employed in the colonial vision of the world and its constitution of racial politics?

In the world colonial vision era, most of the cinemas were centered in colonialism that entailed genres of patriotic and exotic stories of conquest and expansion as well as missions of civilization. Previously, such tales had been had been passed over generations through mediums like museums, popular books, juveniles, drawings, and paintings. Cinemas that were popular opted to be more mythical as compared to the reality about the colonialism nature. For instance, the Franco-Moroccan films of the 1920s era valued the customs of the Moroccans by providing representations that were realistic and those that are ethnographically informed of the audiences involved. Nevertheless, only a few of the cinemas were produced in exotic locations or supported the subject of colonialism.

Using a specific film example that was not included in your digital archives assignment, identify and discuss the genre techniques encoded in these films.

The Out of Africa film, a drama and epic romance movie that was cast in 1985 offers a broad view of colonial Africa as it reflects the relationship between Western Europe and Africa. It also portrays notions that were portrayed by Danish Baroness in the 1930s. Dinesen represents herself as a pundit of pilgrim rule; the film has been blamed for giving her a role as a functioning member in pioneer enslavement (Cooper 1999; Cooper and Descutner 1996). In a survey the film, understudies can be urged to look at which parts of imperialism the film questions or scrutinizes and which, it leaves unchallenged or covered up. Xala addresses subjects of social change, neocolonialism and the abuse of the poor by the bourgeoisie, through the fictional story of El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, an unmistakable representative in an independent African.


Decordova R (1991). “The Emergence of the Star System in America.” In Christine Gledhill, ed. Stardom: Industry of Desire. New York: Routledge, 17-29

Pray M (2003), Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes, and Passions (London: Wallflower Press), 8-37

Dulac G (1987). “The Essence of Cinema: The Visual Idea.” In Adams Sitney, ed. The Avant-garde Film Reader. New York: Anthology Film Archives, 36-42.

Robert C. (1980), Vaudeville and Film 1895- 1915: A Study in Media Interaction

(New York: Arno), 212.

Melford G (1921), The Sheik film, 79 min.

Dinesen, I (1937) Out of Africa Putnam, London

September 25, 2023




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